England Life Stories

Jazz, Amy Winehouse, and London

Jazz-in-london

It’s become a routine of mine, to take myself out on Jazz dates while I travel. Why? Because Jazz music needs no translation. It’s a feeling, and for me, always a positive and warm one. Music is that constant among all the differences with the cities I visit, and the languages I learn. So I’ve made it a point to drop the language and cultural barrier by visiting jazz venues almost everywhere I go.

As I arrived in London, I was feeling extra inspired to follow Amy Winehouse’s footsteps and uncover the bars she once frequented. A quick Google search to “Best Jazz Bars in London” gave me some ideas of where I’d be spending my next few nights.

The let down

I walk into this foggy pub to hear not Jazz, but “99 bottles of beer on the wall.” Unfortunately for me, I had paid a five pound cover charge which meant I had to tough out the horrendous music, if only to get my five pounds worth. I was escorted to the back of the pub; the root of the less than pleasant music, and was seated in an extremely small audience section where I was clearly the only one alone. The awesome part about going out alone is blending into the crowd and not feeling alone, this place left me no choice but to wallow in my lonesomeness while hearing really cheesy cover songs.

Once the lead singer of this three piece band decided to start singing “It’s getting’ hot in here” by Nelly, I knew it was a ridiculous night. Then things took a twist: my second glass of Cabernet got me in the mood to sway and belt along with the rest of the strangers in the crowd, who knew all the words “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” theme song. Yes, they that played too.

jazz after dark

It was obvious that Amy Winehouse did in fact frequent that bar, impossible to ignore the millions of pictures plastered on the establishment’s wall in an almost over exaggerated, poor taste kind of way. It was like an Amy Winehouse themed Disneyland attraction; over the top, and clearly marketed to make a profit. Marketing that proved to deceive on a musical level.

I was pretty bummed, until I decided to stop being a whiny baby and switch my mindset, I let the night take me where it wanted. I went straight into a trance of enjoying cheesy music.The rest of the night was spent bopping alongside two old Dutch dudes, four old British blokes, and a few youngsters sprinkled in the lounge.

Once I stopped being annoying

After the first painful hour, I reevaluated my attitude and actually started enjoying the energy filling the room. Overall, it wasn’t a complete waste of a night, nor complete waste of makeup. If the energy wasn’t enough to feel the night wasn’t a complete bust, I got my five pounds worth when I watched a 60 year old man feeling himself so much, that he felt the need to jump and dance on a table while belting to Bob Marley. Priceless.

Despite the hilariousness of the night at Jazz After Dark, I knew I still needed to hear the core of London’s Jazz scene.

I ordered my Uber around 2AM, worried about being on the wrong side of the road, cause that’s a serious issue for foreigners in the UK. I couldn’t help the growing smirk on my face as I thought about how I just swayed from side to side with complete strangers. Another story for the books of solo adventures.

My Uber driver pulled up and mentioned we had another customer to pick up. I took the opportunity to start telling him about my Jazz-night-gone-wrong to see if it sounded as ridiculous out loud as it really was in my head. He laughed and told me we’d be picking up the next woman in front of the best place to hear Jazz in London, Ronnie Scott’s.

Another one of those great, random encounters

The woman entered the car and within her first sentence, her accent escaped, and we immediately bonded over our USA pride; which can we talk about how patriotic Damon and I both get once we’re abroad? In a land full of accents, it’s always comforting to hear your own.

She had just moved solo to London from San Francisco, study and build her new life here; what a bada$$. Our conversation ended with her genuine recommendation to go see a show at Ronnie Scott’s. Since it had been the second time I was recommended this place within 30 minutes, I couldn’t ignore the signs, and added it to my “Must See in London” list.

Flash forward

two days and I’m meeting up with my old friend from Paris, Lucile, whom I hadn’t seen for five years. We survived boring lectures together in the American Business School of Paris, and bonded over the unnecessary pressure about finals; the makings of a true friendship.

She had moved to London to start a new life completely alone. Do you see a trend here? Clearly, London is a city where international people can feel at home even solo. #SoLondon.

We planned on meeting on a random Monday night for the late night session at Ronnie Scott’s to see live Jazz, and also to see if I could recover from the failed attempt to do so a few days prior.

London is a city that moves, but surprisingly shuts down so early.

The fact that this venue has late night sessions every night of the week already gave them winning points for me, the night owl.

When it’s worth the splurge

I paid the 12 pound cover; hoping to get a million bucks worth of music. Normally, I would only go down the “if it’s free, it’s for me,” road, but when you appreciate something, it’s worth your earned money. Jazz music is one of those precious things for me.

ronnie scotts

As I walked into the dimly lit lounge, I was greeted by well dressed and extremely proper looking servers; these people had such good posture that it made me wish I brought my back brace on this trip. A Server with a foreign accent escorted me past the red velvet curtains into one of the coziest and chicest places I’ve ever been in; 12 pounds, I mean come on, that’s a splurge for me.

The entire venue was shaped like a horseshoe, and lit only by tea light candles. In the flicker of the flames, I saw a mixed crowd of young, old, friends, couples, and international people of all colors fill the room; another reason to love Jazz. In the center of the horseshoe was the stage, waiting to be graced by the talent.

ronnie scotts

A few minutes later, Lucile runs up to me and squeals in excitement at how this venue totally blew both of our expectations out of the water. We order wine and a cheese platter to make the night one of the best I’ve ever experienced. All this happiness was manifesting before the music even started.

And then it happened

When the musicians started belting out the smoothest Jazz notes, I couldn’t slap the cheesy smile off my face even if I wanted to. I was smitten with the moment. If that wasn’t all so amazing, once the first song finished, the main musician mentioned the song was called “When Joanna Loved Me.” SIGNS PEOPLE! Four hours of Jazz music, two glasses of wine, and a cheese platter later and I was beyond satisfied.

Longggggggggg story short, you never know where your disappointments will take you. After the failed, yet hilarious night at Jazz After Dark, I was led directly into one of my all time favorite travel experiences at Ronnie Scott’s. If you’re a Jazz lover, this place needs to be on your list.

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  • Giovana Meirelles

    As a brazilian woman, I reckon how brave you were to go out at night all by yourself!! Even though it wasn’t the best experience, you go girl!! You’re a very very inspiring woman =)

  • JennJennLu

    Great read Jo! Please pack me in your suitcase!!!!!

  • Teacaketravels

    I have been meaning to go to Ronnie Scotts for years! I can’t help but love that you went out to that whacked out first jazz club though – weird places like that are what make life that extra bit special >< You got your kicks in both venues though. Sweet!

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